The European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory is to be launched into space along with the Space Agency’s Planck satellite. They will both orbit the earth at 1.5 million kilometres – the so-called L2 Lagrange point – the best place from which to observe the universe.
The Herschel telescope will be the largest ever to be flown in space, and the first to study the earliest formation of stars and galaxies. It is more than 7 metres long and 4 metres wide and the primary mirror in the telescope is 3.5 metres across. This makes it four times bigger than any previous infra-red space telescope. Planck is Europe’s first mission to study radiation left over from the Big Bang. Ever since the discovery of small fluctuations in the temperature of this radiation – which is called Cosmic Microwave Background – astronomers have used the fluctuations to understand both the origin of the universe and the formation of galaxies. Planck and Herschel will be the most expensive equipment ever launched by Europe and scientists hope that they will finally shed some light on the origins of our universe.